Pandemic impact on female publishing ‘smaller than thought’

In some countries, male researchers’ article output appears to have been more adversely affected, according to new study

八月 11, 2022
lose-up adhesive bandage on unrecognized person's arm after injection of vaccine, people in face mask received a coronavirus COVID-19 vaccine and giving thumb up to recommended inoculation
Source: iStock

Female researchers’ publication record may have been less disrupted by the Covid pandemic than previously thought, and in some sectors male academics were affected more seriously, a new study claims.

In a major study of publications over the past 50 years, researchers in Australia analysed more than 75 million scholarly articles to track the soaring growth of scholarly publishing across different fields and in different nations. The paper, published in Plos One, charts the narrowing of the gender publication gap globally up until the end of 2020, including after the start of the global coronavirus emergency that closed university laboratories and campuses across the world.

While many predicted that female academics would bear the brunt of Covid-related disruption, the study suggests the “opposite” might have happened in some countries, stating that “female research productivity seems to have been more resilient to the disruptive effect of Covid-19”.

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At a global scale, there was “no substantial gender difference in the disruption due to the pandemic” in 2020 and the downturn in publishing was “generally parallel for male and female authors”.

“However, opposite trends were found in a few cases – in some countries [such as] the Netherlands, the United States and Germany, male productivity has been more negatively affected by the pandemic,” says the paper.

That finding would overturn early anecdotal evidence from journals and preprints in 2020 which, in some cases, reported far fewer submissions from female academics amid concerns that school closures were placing a larger burden on women, who have traditionally taken a greater share of childcare than men.

However, the paper states “the Covid-19 pandemic may not have disproportionately disrupted the research productivity of female researchers as has been feared, at least insofar as 2020 publication outputs are concerned”.

The study’s lead author Milad Haghani, senior lecturer in UNSW Sydney’s School of Engineering, told Times Higher Education that it was difficult to explain why the predicted drop-off did not occur for women and that publication downturns were “often more notable with respect to male publications rather than female publications”.

“Female overall productivity managed, for some reason, better to keep its momentum,” said Dr Haghani, although it was “reasonable” to consider whether childcare arrangements in some countries were more equitable between couples than presumed, at least during the pandemic, or whether support for female academics was more robust than thought.

“Any justification that we offer would be based on pure speculation [but] I personally see all [those] potential reasons reasonable and think that a combination of all these factors must have been in play,” Dr Haghani said.

There should still be concern about the failure of some countries to close the long-term gender publication gap, added Dr Haghani.

“In many countries, such as Middle Eastern countries, there is no indication that it is on its way to closing, and in many others, the trends indicate that the gap will not close even a century from now, unless interventions are introduced,” he said.



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